Rolling Stone (??/??/??)

By: Abe Peck
   Lunchtime with Devo, the New Wave sensation, and the subject is
   mutation. In "Jocko Homo," the band's robotic tribute to what it calls
   "the important sound of things falling apart," Devo sings, "They tell
   us that/ We lost out tails/ Evolving up/ From little snails/ I say
   it's all/ Just wind in sails/ Are we not men? We are DEVO!" The lines
   suggest H.G. Wells' book, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and it's 1933 film
   version, Island of Lost Souls. "What is the law?" the whip cracking
   Dr. Moreau asks the beasts he's made into half-humans. "Not to eat
   meat, are we not men?" they reply. Devo's bizarre new album is called
   Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!, which brings up the obvious
   Q: Did you ever see Lost Souls?
   A: "Sure," confesses Jerry Casale, bass player and Devo mouthpiece.
   "That movie is just one of the best. There's a sincerity to it."
   "There's sympathy," another Devo member adds. "Those mutants were
   fucked with. They looked like people from Akron." And Akron, Ohio, for
   the five Devos, means roots.
   "Look, we are spuds," Casale says. "We're very average looking, normal
   gene pool. In Akron, it's the Goodyear Museum and the Soapbox Derby
   and McDonald's and women in hair rollers beating their kids in
   supermarkets. We were products of it and used it."
   As revealed the night before at a suburban club called B'Ginnings,
   they've filtered that "normalcy" through a five-alarm frenzy. Dressed
   first in yellow jump suits, then in Rollerball-type gear, they move
   like android Busby Berkeleys. Their technocratic dance music
   cross-pollinates minimalist Ramones energy and Kraftwerk electronic
   gurgling. Their syncopated, creepy-crawly version of "Satisfaction"
   transforms the Stones' lusty cry into music to feed praying mantises
   Like members of the Tubes and Talking Heads, Devo founders began as
   renegade artistes. During the early Seventies, Casale's Kent State
   University days included such touches as wearing an enema bag to
   gallery shows. It's a cultural edge he's maintained to this day.
   "Real humans" is his curse on the people of Akron. "Just reaction,
   without knowing what was going on. Getting fat, getting mellow,
   getting drugged out, getting married. Getting real Devo."
   Casale's search for an effective attack mode led to music.
   "The art world is a rarified, almost medieval culture in America," he
   explains. "Playing instruments that are readily available to everyone
   and can immediately disseminate information is much more appealing."
   Casale and fellow Kent State weirdo Mark Mothersbaugh, who sings and
   plays synthesizer and keyboards, hooked up in 1972. In the spirit of
   clonehood, they recruited their brothers, Bob-1 and Bob- 2, to play
   guitars. Another Buckeye, Alan Myers, became their drummer. In 1975,
   they filmed a ten-minute bit of high-energy insanity, "The Truth about
   De-Evolution." It won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, helped
   spread the word about them, and currently opens their onstage
   multimedia blitzkrieg.
   In 1976, they cleared out some garage space and recorded "Jocko Homo"
   and "Mongoloid," which was released quickly as a single distributed by
   Devo's label, Booji (pronounced "Boogie") Boy Records. In 1977, Devo
   released its gritty, eerie version of "Satisfaction," which became a
   cult favorite. Album contracts followed: Warner Bros. here, Virgin in
   England. Elliot Roberts, who represents Joni Mitchell and Neil Young,
   became their manager.
   Along the way, Devo picked a mythology off the pop culture rack.
   "De-evolution," which symbolizes man's current retrogression, comes
   from a Wonder Woman comic book. The Big Idea - that man descended from
   mutant, brain-eating apes who today are going crazy - is lifted from a
   book rejected by the science world called "The Beginning Was the End:
   Knowledge Can Be Eaten," which Casale found in a bookstore while
   scouring New York for work.
   And then there's "the important sound of things falling apart."
   "What's falling apart is a certain picture of reality," Casale says.
   "We're in corporate society i the Eighties, and all the dichotomies
   about natural and unnatural, Democratic and Republican, capitalism and
   communism, are ridiculous. The ambiguity that lies at the base of
   America's survival-of-the-fittest myth is what we're stirring up and
   "The torch of Western civilization is being carried solely by
   America," he continues. "The psychotic thing is all over here. We got
   the white man's burden."
   Equally useless is mainstream rock.
   "Most rock & roll bands are irrelevant musically," Casale maintains,
   with the exception of Roxy Music, Bowie, Iggy Pop. "Devo's not a
   parody or attack, because that's a reaction. Devo represents a
   possibility for a replacement of something that's gone stale."
   And in the post-Sid Vicious period, punk fares just as poorly. "The
   masochistic, kamikaze fashion of punk is really a Fifties idea of
   rebellion that's outmoded and obsolete. Dog collars are redundant.
   We're all wearing imaginary dog collars."
   At B'Ginnings, the audience divided into dog-collared devotees and
   suburbanites more inclined to mutter, "They suck."
   Casale shrugs it off. "Polarization's okay. It creates hard focus.
   Devo's a computer aesthetic, like zero and one, one or off. We're a
   catalyst. When we appear, the crowd's energy becomes organized. It's a
   guerrilla behavioralist experiment."
   But the brave new landscape Devo paints is peopled by the weak, the
   meek, the shitty. In one big scene during their show, the infant Booji
   Boy is electrocuted in his crib.
   Q: Are we not fascists?
   A: "The word fascism has zero meaning at this point, zero valence.
   People are frustrated and depressed. They see Booji Boy hurt himself,
   and they don't have to hurt somebody. It satisfies both the sadistic
   and masochistic urge."
   These days, Devo's thriving by offering a hard, fast shard of reality.
   But Casale knows that even nihilistic music has to adapt or die.
   "You'll hear more synthesizer. The guitars will eventually be
   eliminated. Once the big solo hippie stars blew it out with guitar
   riffs there was nothing left to do with them. We use them now as
   textures, punctuation."
   Q: Innovations aside, does not Devo go along with the program?
   A: "Cooperating with a large corporate body like Warner Bros., that's
   the only way to survive," Casale insists. "It's syncing up with the
   real situation. We live in corporate society. You inject your
   information into the program. Rebellion is obsolete, an outmoded way
   to live."
   "We're trying to do what a responsible person would do in this medium:
   walk the tightrope. It remains to be seen how successful it is. We're
   Warners' rollerball team."

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